Conservationists sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services this week over a controversial Colorado predator-control program aimed at reducing mountain lions and bears.
WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Wednesday to stop a Parks and Wildlife plan to kill 120 of the predators to stabilize declining mule deer populations.
The state agency plans to use the federal Wildlife Services arm of the USDA to carry out the predator control.
The three-year plan is expected to begin May 1, and will focus on the Upper Arkansas River Basin in the south-central part of the state, and the Piceance Basin in northwest Colorado.
The plan does not include reducing bears and mountain lions populations in Southwest Colorado, said Durango Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski.
The lawsuit argues that the federal government failed to fully analyze the environmental impacts of the plan, and should conduct a larger study with more public input.
“The state relies on outdated and unscientific thinking that disregards the importance of predators,” said Collett Adkins, a biologist and attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The scientific analysis that our lawsuit seeks would show that Colorado’s predator-killing program is ecologically harmful, as well as ineffective and cruel.”
In February, WildEarth Guardians filed a separate lawsuit in state court against Colorado Parks and Wildlife, alleging the plan to use traps violates a Colorado constitutional amendment that prohibits trapping.
Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, told The Journal they disagree with an exemption claimed by Colorado to use trapping for the predator control project.
“Trapping in the state is illegal, and the exemption is very narrow, allowing it only for nonlethal scientific research,” Cotton said. “They claim by trapping the animals, then shooting them, it is nonlethal use of the trap. They are attempting to get around state law.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. When reached by phone, a Parks and Wildlife biologist familiar with the predator control plan said he could not speak to The Journal about it because the matter is under litigation.
WildEarth Guardians is seeking a court-ordered injunction to halt Colorado’s plan to kill the bears and mountain lions pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
Habitat fragmentation and getting killed by vehicles are the biggest threats to mule deer, conservationists say, and efforts should focus on those problems.
“The best available science reveals loss of habitat from oil and gas development is the driving factor in mule deer decline, not predation from black bears and mountain lions,” said Matthew Bishop, and attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, representing the plaintiffs.
“More wildlife crossings in areas with high deer fatality rates is a better solution than killing native predator species who have an inherent right to survive,” added Cotton.
The Predator Management Plan approved by the state would kill between 15 and 45 mountain lions and 30 to 75 bears over three years in 500 square miles west of Meeker and Rifle. Half the mountain lions in south-central Colorado would also be killed as part of the program.
The Piceance Basin plan calls for using federal Wildlife Services to deploy cage traps, culvert traps and foot snares to capture and then shoot mountain lions and bears.